Stoke on Trent 1st XV 13
Market Rasen & Louth 1st XV 10
RASEN came within a whisker of winning an enthralling Midlands Intermediate Cup final played at Stoke in front of a large crowd where the away supporters outnumbered the home fans.
The visiting entourage gave the players, resplendent in their facial hair specially cultivated for the occasion, a rousing welcome onto the pitch as they were first to emerge from the dressing rooms.
Playing downhill, Rasen showed their power at the first scrum, but Stoke quickly recovered and an offside in the third minute was punished by their fly half Steve Talbot, whose accurate goal kick gave Rasen due warning of his capabilities.
Cup final nerves seemed to be having a greater effect on Rasen as an unusually high number of fumbled catches and passes punctuated their game, whilst Stoke calmly set about their task and kept the visitors pinned in their own half.
In the 13th minute a penalty for handling in a ruck gave Talbot another shot at goal, which he slotted between the uprights to extend the lead.
With Rasen under pressure and finding it difficult to escape their own half, it was Stoke who encountered their own cup final jitters.
The assured fly half over hit a couple of kicks to put the ball into touch on the full, whilst the dangerous backline created space on three occasions, before a lack of precision left their winger exasperated as passes failed to reach their target.
As the half was drawing to a close Rasen began to emerge like a slumbering giant and started to put some phases together, which took them deep into Stoke territory.
The red and greens suffered a set back on the stroke of half time as flanker Dave Starling sustained an ankle injury and was forced to leave the field to take no further part.
In the first half Rasen hadn’t done themselves justice with the high number of unforced errors, but the green shoots of a revival at the end of the half augured well for the second period.
The red and greens continued where they had left off as Stoke struggled to contain the robust Rasen driving forward play and eventually conceded a penalty within striking distance of their line.
Rasen opted for the scrum and retained the ball to set up further drives before the ball was released to the backs.
Under intense pressure from his opposite number, fly half Owen Denovan conjured an inspirational flick on that found Matt Neesham joining the line from fullback.
With the defence stretched, Neesham delivered the ball to flying winger Rob Rigby whose pace took him around the last defender to bring Rasen within a point of Stoke.
Unfortunately Matt Neesham was unable to add the conversion, but Rasen had put down a marker and vindicated their penalty decision.
The red and green onslaught continued as the forwards drove relentlessly at their opponents and, in a reversal of the first half, Stoke were now on the back foot.
A 20 metre drive ended with another penalty, which this time was dispatched to touch to set up a catch and drive.
With the ball won, the forwards began their drive for the line and as they inched their way closer, lock Ben Chamberlin spotted a chink in the fringe defence to dive over and put Rasen into the lead as the match entered the final quarter.
Despite being dominated in the third quarter, there was still plenty of life left in the Stoke side and they tore into Rasen from the restart.
Desperate defence was struggling to keep Stoke at bay as the home side made deep inroads into the Rasen twenty-two.
As the pressure mounted, Stoke’s veteran prop Rich Brown forced his way over the line with the sure boot of Talbot adding the extras to give Stoke a three point lead with 12 minutes remaining.
Rasen went back on the offensive and their potent forwards drove back up field into a good attacking position, but an accidental offside allowed Stoke to clear the danger and put themselves back into the Rasen half.
In the 37th minute of the second half the deadly Talbot was off target with a penalty attempt, but had eaten into precious time.
The sin binning of replacement prop Pete Southwell finally finished off the Rasen challenge and Stoke completed their victory with a kick to touch from the penalty.
The players had given their all and left nothing on the pitch in a wholehearted effort against tough opposition.
Whilst the day was slightly tainted by defeat, the club can be proud of the players and the support they have engendered, which saw so many members travel to cheer on the team.
Next week local rivals Lincoln travel to Willingham Road in the penultimate league game of the season for a 3pm kick off.
With Loughborough dropping points at Bakewell, Rasen are now nine points clear at the top of the table and any sort of win will see them promoted.
Team: Starling C, Oliver, Cole, Dearden L, Chamberlin, Mitchell, Starling D, Hutchinson, Neesham A, Denovan, Everton P, Jones, Dearden A, Rigby, Neesham M
Subs: Calverly (Starling D), Green (not used), Murphy (Mitchell), Southwell (Cole)